Friday, September 28, 2012

Camille Rewinds (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

Never mind that Francis Ford Coppola did the same thing to Peggy Sue in 1985. Noémie Lvovsky does it to herself, three times over (directing, co-writing, and starring) and sends herself back to 1985, using the tried-and-true time-travel method of overindulging in alcohol on New Year's Eve. Now trying to put right what once went wrong, Camille finds herself...wait, no, that's somebody else.

Camille's gone back to the most important month of her life: she will meet her future husband (who's divorcing her in the present), become pregnant by him with her daughter, and losing her mother to a brain tumor. Given the miracle chance to rewrite her life, Camille passionately but inexpertly insists on a CAT scan for her mother and avoiding falling for Éric, the man she'll marry (Samir Guesmi in a giggle-worthy eighties-puff hairstyle). She of course immediately sets about co-starring in the school play alongside Éric, dating him and kissing him right on schedule with her memories. There's some initial comedy in the physical disconnect of Lvovsky sent back in time: we see her only and always as her 40-year old self, dressed in 80s bright tops and spandex miniskirts, but every character perceives her as 16, though with an advanced adult taste (even for a Frenchwoman) for whiskey and cigarettes. It's more interesting to watch Lvovsky than her co-stars during these moments, though. She's sometimes baffled, sometimes mischievous, always believably earnest.

A pity that she-bops so quickly back to 1985, because Camille Rewinds can't avoid falling into the same traps of so many time-travel narratives, using the fish-back-in-old-water trope as a background to Camille's attempts to reshape the future we've already seen happen. If her script needs polishing and trimming, however, her performance shines through. Lvovsky's intense earnestness is offset by an amazed delight, and when the main story takes a back seat to the slight but charming plot of Camille and her teenage girlfriends, Lvovsky sparkles as adult Camille trying to be more than the teen whose life and body she's re-entered, cautiously re-stepping through a well-tread minefield of her life.

Ultimately the time-travel plot is as fluffy and trippy as its lollipop-colored wardrobe and 80s pop soundtrack, with two dance sequences set to Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" (is Camille's life just a similar one-hit wonder?). Lvovsky invests such intense earnestness in Camille's attempts to prevent the future she's lived through, that she only spends a brief moment considering (and then immediately dismissing) the thought that if she's successful, her daughter will never exist. Her friends' subplots are predictable enough after seeing the characters in 1985 fulfill their unstoppable plot tics in the future. The paradox of knowing the future that might not happen is slight and flimsy, but it's done with a bright and impulsive energy centered on after-hours secret meetings with her teenage BFFs. There's a lot in the small performances that delights even as the script hits predictable cues again and again. A creepy, "do the French really roll with this?" unease at Camille's love relationship with an adult professor balances out against the enthusiastic glee Camille takes in recording her parents' voices talking, singing, laughing on an audiocassette, a souvenir for her future self.

Time After Time, Peggy Sue Got Married and yes, especially Back to the Future did the time travel story better and with more originality, but Camille Rewinds's strengths are in the performances. Go to see it for the late night all-girl gossip-fests by the public pool, for the brief but touching appearances of Yolande Moreau and Michel Vuillermoz as Camille's mother and father, for Noémie Lvovsky fearlessly wriggling her forty-year-old self into a sixteen-year-old's punk-wannabe wardrobe. Her Cyndi Lauper attitude outshines every moment of Smiths angst.

Camille Rewinds makes its North American premiere at the 50th New York Film Festival on Saturday, September 29; subsequent showtimes on October 1, 2, and 10.

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